Ben Bagert

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Bernard John
"Ben" Bagert, Jr.​


Louisiana State Senator for
District 4 (Orleans Parish)
In office
1984–1992
Preceded by Michael H. O'Keefe, Jr.
Succeeded by Marc Morial

Louisiana State Representative for District 24, later District 98
(Orleans Parish)​
In office
1970 ​ – 1994​
Preceded by Thomas Early
Succeeded by Garey Forster

Born January 10, 1944 ​
New Orleans, Louisiana, USA​
Political party Democrat-turned-Republican​ (c. 1989)
Alma mater Jesuit High School (New Orleans)

Loyola University New Orleans
Loyola University New Orleans College of Law​

Occupation Attorney
Religion Roman Catholic

Parents:
Judge Bernard Bagert, Sr., and ​the former Philomen Schilleci

Bernard John Bagert, Jr. (born January 10, 1944), known as Ben Bagert, is an American attorney based in New Orleans, Louisiana, who is a former member of both houses of his state legislature.

Background

The oldest of four children of New Orleans Criminal Court Judge Bernard Bagert, Sr., and the former Philomen Schilleci (1917-2003),[1] Bagert was educated at Jesuit High School in New Orleans, Loyola University New Orleans, and the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, from which he received his Juris Doctorate in 1968. He was a "Blue Key" national honor fraternity member and the president of the student body in law school. While in college, he won boxing tournaments which led to part-time work as a longshoreman on the Mississippi River. These early friendships led to his political success.

Bagert practices law before the United States Supreme Court, the Fifth and Eleventh Circuit U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals, the Louisiana Supreme Court, and other lesser courts. Bagert has written textbooks on Louisiana succession and family law. His law firm is located at 650 Poydras Street adjacent to the federal courthouse in New Orleans. He has practiced primarily in Louisiana, but has handled cases in Texas, Mississippi, and Florida too. The firm handles administrative law, business law, federal criminal defense and conspiracy, construction law, wills and estates, trusts, and insurance defense.[2]

His peers have consistently voted Bagert as a “Top Lawyer” in the New Orleans area in a variety of fields.[3][4] He received highest rating as a lawyer in 2012 too.[5] He carries the highest possible rating conferred by Martindale-Hubbell for ethical standards and legal ability.[6]

Bagert's younger brother, Broderick A. Bagert, Sr., is a former member of the New Orleans City Council. As young men, the Bagerts were an unbeatable team on the New Orleans political scene. They were among the first to rely on computer technology to enhance campaign operations. Brod Bagert (born 1947) retired from politics and is a poet, lecturer, and author of children's books.​

Bagert's home in the Lakeview area of New Orleans was flooded in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. The damage occurred when the nearby 17th Street Canal broke during the storm. He relocated to Jefferson Parish.​

Political life

As a legislator, he was known as a politician who did not follow structured party dogma. Though he was initially elected as a Democrat, he supported cultural and economic conservativism with a pro-environment orientation and later became a Republican. He was the first Louisiana legislator to warn of the loss of wetlands habitat. He consistently opposed taxes and the expansion of government programs and enacted bills to reform the "welfare laws" then in effect.[7] Bagert, who maintained an active litigation law practice while the legislature was not in session, authored the Louisiana Code of Evidence. His Senate Bill 155 became Act 515 in 1988.

In 1990, Bagert mounted a GOP challenge to entrenched incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., of Shreveport. Former Ku Klux Klansman, David Duke, then a state representative for Jefferson Parish, also entered the race as a Republican. Although Duke, a former Democrat, was opposed by the state Republican Party leadership, he gathered immense media attention and significant support from traditionally Democratic and union voters. At the time, Republican and Democratic candidates for Congress ran simultaneously under Louisiana's nonpartisan blanket primary.​ As the election drew near, Bagert withdrew from the contest in a last-minute bid to thwart Duke.[8]

In 1991, Bagert did not seek reelection to the Louisiana State Senate but instead ran unsuccessfully as the Republican choice for state attorney general in a bid to succeed the retiring William J. Guste, also of New Orleans. He lost to the Democrat Richard Ieyoub of Lake Charles. Oddly David Duke was again at the top of the Republican ticket in an unsuccessful race for governor that year against Edwin Edwards. Bagert returned full-time to his law practice. He has been elected several times to the Republican State Central Committee and has been a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1996, which met in San Diego, California. Bagert was the lawyer for Robert Dole and Elizabeth Dole in each of their unsuccessful presidential campaigns.​

Six legislative elections as a Democrat

At the age of twenty-five, Bagert won a special election in 1970 for the Louisiana House of Representatives. He won full terms to the state House in 1972, 1975, and 1979. He was a member of the "Young Turks" reformers led by future House Speaker E. L. "Bubba" Henry of Jonesboro, in Jackson Parish and Robert G. Jones of Lake Charles, the son of former Governor Sam Houston Jones. Bagert often questioned certain state expenditures. In the spring of 1972, for instance, he asked why the state continued to spend more than $214,000 per year to maintain the Louisiana Livestock Brand Commission, which he described as a useless entity whose members merely drove around searching for stolen cows and checking brands on the animals.[9]

In the House, Bagert held leadership positions including the chairmanships of the Criminal Justice Committee and the Commerce, Insurance, and Banking Committee. In 1983, he was elected to the first of two terms to the state Senate. In his last election victory, in the 1987 nonpartisan blanket primary, Bagert defeated his Republican opponent, Harry T. Begg, III, 23,953 votes (89 percent) to 3,043 (11 percent).[10]

During his legislative service, Bagert received accolades from a variety of good government, environmental, and conservative organizations. The Alliance for Good Government named him Legislator of the Year in 1973, 1983, and 1985.​ The groups, Friends of the Environment and Citizens for Clean Environment, honored him in 1991 with the Brown Pelican Award because he was the first state official in Louisiana to address the near extinction of the brown pelican, the state bird that appears on the state seal. He authored measures to prevent programs spending public funds for the aerial application of the pesticide Mirex] a chlorinated hydrocarbon similar to DDT. He was named "Conservationist of the Year" by the National and Louisiana Wildlife Federation in 1986 for his work to salvage depleted redfish and speckled trout stocks and again in 1988 for his work to abate the erosion of wetlands.[11]

In 1989, after voters rejected a $700 million tax reform package submitted by then Governor Buddy Roemer, Bagert replied:
Let's do some major budget cutting before we even think about more taxes. ... People voted for a revolution in state government in 1987 [when Roemer was elected] ... They are still waiting.[12]

The aborted senatorial campaign of 1990

Bagert was the official Republican Party choice to challenge Democratic Senator J. Bennett Johnston in the 1990 primary. At the state convention held in New Orleans on January 13, 1990, Bagert received 451 of the 792 delegate votes cast. Far behind were state Representative Quentin Dastugue and Louisiana Secretary of State Walter Fox McKeithen (1946-2005), whose father, former Governor John J. McKeithen had unsuccessfully challenged Johnston in 1972 as an Independent because the Democratic qualifying period had ended before the death of U.S. Senator Allen J. Ellender. Dastugue and McKeithen did not proceed to the primary, but a third candidate who failed at the convention continued forward.[13]

In fact, State Representative David Duke ran far ahead of Bagert in the primary process, having procured the support of many traditionally Democratic blue collar voters. Virginia Republican and Iran-Contra figure Oliver North campaigned for Bagert, four years before North would make his own unsuccessful race against Senator Charles Robb, a son-in-law of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson.​

In his campaign Bagert called Johnston "a bungling, milquetoast liberal"[14] and "aloof and out of touch" with Louisiana voters. Bagert accused Johnston of having had little interest in the state's oil and gas industries but partial to large utility holdings and nuclear energy developers. Johnston's vote for the windfall profits tax "hurt the independent oil producers in our state," declared Bagert.[15]

Bagert's impressive list of contributors included Governor David C. Treen, the state's first Republican congressman and governor since Reconstruction; Bryan James Wagner (1943-2018), the first GOP member elected in the 20th century to the New Orleans City Council; John James Hainkel, Jr. (1938-2005), a Democrat and later Republican member of the state Senate from an Orleans-area district; party chairmen James H. Boyce (shortly before his death) of Baton Rouge, George Despot of Shreveport, Donald G. Bollinger of Lockport, and William A. "Billy" Nungesser of New Orleans; Louis Roussel, Jr., a businessman and financier who had bankrolled campaigns of earlier Democrats, including Edwin Edwards and William J. "Bill" Dodd; future U.S. Senator David Vitter of Metairie in Jefferson Parish, the late "Cajun" humorist, chef, and former Democrat Justin Wilson (1914-2001); Dalton Woods, a Shreveport oilman and friend of President George Herbert Walker Bush; state Representative E. Clark Gaudin of Baton Rouge, New Orleans businessman James A. Noe, Jr., son of a former Democratic governor; future U.S. Senate candidate Suzanne Haik Terrell, another former member of the New Orleans City Council; former state Senator Bob Jones, a stockbroker from Lake Charles, and even a Texas-Louisiana businessman, Albert Bel Fay, who had once been the Republican national committeeman from Texas​.

Although Bagert campaigned hard, he continued to trail Duke and Johnston in the public opinion polls. Days before the primary, U.S. Senators John Danforth of Missouri, Ted Stevens of Alaska, and Nancy Kassebaum Baker of Kansas announced that they were "supporting" their Democratic colleague Johnston. At first, Bagert denounced Republicans who questioned his ability to win the race: "I wasn't [politically] dead; it's a mistake they made."[16] But when it became clear to Bagert that by continuing the battle he would improve Duke's chances, he withdrew so that a runoff election between Duke and Johnston could have been avoided. Many of Bagert's campaign advisers urged him to remain in the race to protect his political viability. Of his withdrawal, Bagert said, "I do not want my footnote in history to read: 'His persistence led to the election of a man who tarnished American conservatism for many years.'"​

Johnston hence won reelection to his fourth and final term with 753,198 votes (54 percent) to Duke's 607,091 (43 percent). Another 3 percent was shared by two minor Democratic candidates.[17] Votes cast for Bagert were not tabulated because of his withdrawal. Ironically, many in the Republican establishment voted for Johnston even though they had recruited Bagert to try to unseat Johnston. It was not to be the last time that state party leaders would also vote for a Democrat to block David Duke. A year later, many Republicans supported discredited Governor Edwin Edwards to thwart Duke's ill-fated gubernatorial candidacy. The slogan used in 1991 was "Vote for the Crook. It's Important."​

In 1991, Bagert's political career ended with his race for state attorney general. He since concentrated on his law practice.​

References

  1. Judge Bernard John Bagert, Sr.. Findagrave.com. Retrieved on April 15, 2020.
  2. [​https://www.bagertlaw.com/ Distinguished New Orleans Law Firm Achieves Exceptional Results]. Bagertlaw.com. Retrieved on October 25, 2019.
  3. Top Lawyers of 2014. Myneworleans.com. Retrieved on October 25, 2019.
  4. Profile: Top Lawyers 2013 Top Lawyers of 2013. Myneworleans.com.
  5. New Orleans Top Lawyers of 2012. google.com. Retrieved on June 10, 2012.
  6. The Bagert Law Firm. Martindale.com. Retrieved on October 25, 2019.
  7. Senate Bill 512 (1990); The New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 21, 1990.
  8. Lousiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 6, 1990.
  9. Charles Leyton, United Press International, "Bagert Says Commission Wastes Taxpayers' Funds," June 2, 1972.
  10. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 24, 1987.
  11. Louisiana Wildlife Federation Conservation Award Winners. lawildlifefed.org. Retrieved on January 8, 201; no longer on-line.
  12. "'So, Where's the Revolution?, Sen. Ben Bagert says people still waiting," [Minden Press-Herald], May 17, 1989, g. 5A.
  13. "GOP selects Bagert to challenge Johnston," Minden Press-Herald, January 16, 1990, p. 4.
  14. "Can Johnston be beaten?," Minden Press-Herald, November 19, 1989, p. 1.
  15. Joey White, "Bagert 'pulls no punches' on campaign trail," Minden Press-Herald, February 22, 1990, p. 1.
  16. "Johnston wins GOP endorsements," Minden Press-Herald, October 4, 1990, p. 1.
  17. Lousiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 6, 1990.

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